Zac Kallest, the narrator of Logan Ayers’s AN OUTSIDER ON THE INSIDE, is, by most definitions, a normal kid. He is restless. Ambitious. Wanting to leave his hometown of Port Kembler but is cagey about his prospects. His best friend is Billy, a sharp-tongued slacker. His love interest is Ophelia, who barely knows he exists. Basically, Ayers’s novel is an I Love You, Beth Cooper knock-off. A savvy navigator of social structures, Zac avoids most high school drama. But when he discovers his brother Ben lying behind a dumpster and looking for all the world like a corpse, he recruits Billy to help him investigate. Why? His own embarrassment, of course. After all, nothing is worse than kids at school talking about you. This is something Zac shouldn’t care about, though. He calls himself a “contextual,” which he defines as “someone that changes their personality depending on the situation around them, depending on the context.” In other words, Zac does what every single human does: behave differently around different people. Not much of an insight to build a novel around. Plus it doesn’t make sense practically. In one scene, he describes a P.E. competition involving wind sprints. As other students drop out, the only ones left are four jock types and Zac. “Their egos would take a large hit if they lost to me,” he muses, so he decides to act, “contextual style”: he loses on purpose. But what is his interest in preserving the jocks’ egos? How does it help him? What kind of personal code requires you to underachieve?
AN OUTSIDER ON THE INSIDE is marketed as a Young Adult novel, but it doesn’t feel like one. The voice is too mature, too intellectual. Zac calls his father “unapologetically himself.” He refers to something happening “across all age demographics.” He considers phrasing an apology as “I’m just a boy, standing in front of his friends, asking them to forgive him.” There are a fair number of clichés, both narrative and situational. Also, if I may be permitted a Ms. Grundy moment, Ayers’s verbs constantly switch tenses, and there are more comma splices than snakes in the Outback. Still, it is an interesting read with a fast-paced plot, relatable characters, and more action than you’d expect. Zac isn’t someone I would have been friends with in high school, but I’m rooting for him all the same.
Logan Ayers’ AN OUTSIDER ON THE INSIDE is an entertaining, if none-too-original, coming-of-age story.
~Anthony Aycock for IndieReader